Researchers find exoplanet with pi-like 3.14-day orbit

Astronomers find an exoplanet with a pi-like orbit. This whimsical view was provided by MIT. Image: NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle, Christine Daniloff, MIT

In a cosmic fluke of sorts, researchers have found an Earth-size exoplanet with a pi-like 3.14-day period. Whirling around its star at some 291,000 kph (181,000 miles per hour), the planet’s surface temperature is estimated at around 176 degrees Celsius (350 degrees Fahrenheit), just about right for baking an actual pie, says MIT.

The planet was found in data captured in 2017 by the Kepler Space Telescope’s K2 extended mission and confirmed using SPECULOOS, a network of ground-based telescopes. A paper in the Astronomical Journal describing the discovery is titled: “π Earth: a 3.14-day Earth-sized Planet from K2’s Kitchen Served Warm by the SPECULOOS Team.”

“Everyone needs a bit of fun these days,” said co-author Julien de Wit.

Catalogued as K2-315b, the planet represents the 315th solar system discovered in the K2 data, just one away from yet another pi tie-in. Its radius is 95 percent that of Earth’s and while it is thought to be a terrestrial world, its close-in orbit and the resulting high temperatures make it an unlikely host for life.

“This would be too hot to be habitable in the common understanding of the phrase,” said lead author Prajwal Niraula, a graduate student in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences. But, he added, it may be a promising candidate for atmospheric analysis by the James Webb Space Telescope.

“There will be more interesting planets in the future, just in time for JWST, a telescope designed to probe the atmosphere of these alien worlds,” says Niraula. “With better algorithms, hopefully one day, we can look for smaller planets, even as small as Mars.”